5 Great Hikes Along the Coast

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Almost everyone enjoys a nice walk along the beach. But after walking along the sand and staring at the ocean — and maybe seeing too many “experienced” beachgoers wearing swimsuits that looked best on them in the early 1970s — some people are ready for a more unique experience. If you love to walk or hike, and are ready to try something different, here are some scenic hikes along the U.S. coast. You might not always have the ocean in sight — but you probably won’t come across many people wearing an ill-fitting swimsuit, either.

 

5. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Those black specks in the lower center of the photo are people climbing the massive dune on Lake Michigan. © Allatka

A few years ago, ABC’s Good Morning America viewers voted Sleeping Bear Dunes the “Most Beautiful Place in America.” One can certainly debate that result, but this area in the northwest corner of Michigan’s lower peninsula certainly has a surreal beauty, with sand dunes hundreds of feet tall plunging at a steep angle to the crystal-blue waters of Lake Michigan. While the park features about 100 miles of hiking trails, everyone — especially the kids — wants to climb the dunes on Lake Michigan, which can be a strenuous activity. Even if you stick to the less challenging trails, you’ll be treated to some great scenery here.

 

4. Nags Head Woods Preserve

Nags Head Woods is a hidden jewel in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. © Bob Muller

Just taking a stroll on the beach along North Carolina’s Outer Banks is a treat. But when you get tired of the ocean views, you can check out this relatively unknown site where the locals go when they want a walk in the woods. Located in Kill Devil Hills, this 1,100-acre preserve is chock full of nature. More than five miles of trails cut through sand dunes and wooded wetlands with trees hundreds of years old. If you’re going in the summer, it will be hot, there will be plenty of bugs, but Nags Head Woods Preserve is worth a hike.

 

3. Point Reyes National Seashore

The view from the Chimney Rock Trail in Point Reyes National Seashore. © Miguel

This area just north of San Francisco has around 150 miles of hiking trails. The 1.6-mile Chimney Rock Trail, which leads to the scene pictured above, offers views of the Pacific and Drakes Bay, wildflowers, towering cliffs and more. Early in the year, migrating whales can be seen just off shore. You could make a strong case for the Bay Area being the best spot for hikers/walkers in the U.S. Other interesting coastal hikes in the area include Muir Woods National Monument and Mt. Tamalpais State Park.

 

2. Olympic National Park

A hiker checks out the sunset at Olympic National Park’s Ruby Beach. © Tobin Akehurst/Shutterstock.com

Located in the Pacific Northwest, Olympic may be the most ecologically diverse national park in the U.S., featuring everything from glaciated mountain peaks and rainforests to a coastline so remote it’s nicknamed the “Wilderness Coast.” You can find a number of overnight hikes through that wild area, but surprisingly, some of the most scenic spots on the beach are accessible via relatively short day hikes. One popular destination, Ruby Beach (pictured above) is only a quarter-mile from Highway 101. Another destination, Rialto Beach, is an easy 1.5-mile hike.

 

1. Acadia National Park

The view at Acadia National Park’s Thunder Hole shortly after sunrise. © Dave Wilson

Want to start an argument with locals along the Maine coast? Start talking about which part of the U.S. is the first to see the sunrise each day. This is actually a fiercely debated question along the rocky Maine coastline, with several spots laying claim to that distinction. Acadia’s Cadillac Mountain is the first spot in the U.S. to see the sunrise during most of the fall and winter, and a great place to catch the first rays the rest of the year. You could drive to the top of the mountain to see that spectacular sight … but why not take a hike in the predawn hours? Several hiking trails lead to Cadillac Mountain’s summit. If you’re looking for a great sunrise spot, it’s hard to go wrong with any trail in the park that has a clear view east over the Atlantic. This is a wonderful park for hiking, with more than 120 miles of hiking trails. And you can see some interesting things walking around nearby Bar Harbor.

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